President Mauricio Macri scored a major victory in Argentina’s midterms elections last night, making significant gains that should deliver his Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition considerable momentum and a strengthened hand in pressing ahead with his reform agenda.
With 99 percent of ballots counted, the ruling coalition had taken 40.59 percent of the total national vote, with Kirchnerite forces and their allies reaching 21.03 percent. Justicialist Party candidates took 13.77 percent of the vote, with leftist candidates on 6.7 percent and Sergio Massa and his allies bagging 5.75 percent of the national vote.
In the two main headlines from the evening, Elisa “Lilita” Carrió improved on her PASO performance to dominate the race to become a deputy representing the nation’s capital, taking more than 50 percent of the vote. Daniel Filmus of Unidad Porteña was second with 21.74 percent of the vote, with Evolución's Martín Lousteau on 12.33 percent. Left-winger Marcelo Ramal, of FIT, took 5.81 percent.
In the race to be deputies in Buenos Aires province, Cambiemos’ took a strong share of the vote to win the election, with Graciela Ocaña taking 42.18 percent of the way, up on her PASO share of 34.38 percent, with 99 percent of ballots tallied.
But most eyes were drawn toward Buenos Aires Province, where former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was defeated by Cambiemos’ Esteban Bullrich in the region’s senatorial race, losing by approximately four percentage points, reversing Cristina's razor-thin victory in the primaries. With 98 percent of votes counted, Bullrich had 41.3 percent against 37.3 percent for Fernández de Kirchner. Sergio Massa, of 1País trailed in third with 11.32 percent, while Justicialist Party candidate and former Kirchnerite minister Florencio Randazzo took 5.31 percent.
While Fernández de Kirchner, a former head of state, was still elected as a senator (two of the three Senate seats elected in the province went to party with the most votes, while the third was reserved for the second-place party), the result may indicate a turning point for Argentina and the province, which is home to some 40 percent of the nation’s voters.
In a speech Fernández de Kirchner conceded that Bullrich had won the race but said her newly formed front, Citizens’ Unity, will remain in politics, hopefully as the “base” for the opposition. In a speech to supporters, Fernández de Kirchner said her movement had “emerged as the firmest opposition” to Macri’s government and said it was “here to stay.”
Fernández de Kirchner said she wanted to "unite all the different political forces" who are against "this political and social model of austerity that only causes pain to most of the population,” Mrs. Kirchner said.
As a senator, she now has immunity from a slew of corruption charges that are building up against her in the courts.
Cambiemos also won the so-called ‘big five’ - Buenos Aires City, Buenos Aires province, Cordóba, Santa Fe and Mendoza. It was the first sweep for a single grouping since 1985.
While seats will be confirmed on Monday morning, it is widely anticipated that Macri’s coalition managed to achieve its main target of winning a legislative majority, removing the opposition’s two-thirds majority.
"People were able to express themselves on a day of democracy without hardly any problems," declared Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña in comments made before results became available.
The election commission put the official turnout at 78 percent – up four percent from the August’s primaries – for the vote, widely seen as a referendum on Macri after two years in office. While voting is compulsory for every citizen, enforcement of the law is lax.
Speaking from the Cambiemos bunker, an energetic Macri said that it was “only the beginning."
"Today, the winner wasn’t a group of candidates nor a party. Today the winner was the certainty that we can change history forever,” he said, before later launching into his now-traditional dance moves onstage.
The president's speech came after Esteban Bullrich had taken to the stage declaring Cambiemos the victor in the race for Buenos Aires province. The senator-elect was followed in turn by the star of the coalition's campaign, Governor María Eugenia Vidal, who was emotional as she thanked the crowd for their support.
"I voted for the government’s candidates. I'm far from being convinced, but I voted Macri in 2015. The most important thing is that Kirchner doesn't come back," said teacher Sergio Peroti, 48, after voting at a school in the capital.
Rosendo Fraga, a political consultant with the firm Nueva Mayoria, said a victory for Macri "would be a sign that populism is out and that the economic direction is being maintained."
The vote was overshadowed by the discovery last week of the body of indigenous rights activist Santiago Maldonado, who went missing nearly three months ago after police broke up a protest over tribal land claims.
The case has caused a political storm and revived dark memories of the forced disappearances of opponents during the country's years of dictatorship.
Maldonado's family blame the police for his death and Macri – who has not commented publicly on the case since Maldonado’s body was found – had to face awkward questions as he voted with his wife in Buenos Aires.
"We must let the justice do its work," Macri told reporters after casting his vote.